The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

How many people can  travel a familiar route for the first time every time? I know I can.

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And so it was this morning when I ventured to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve off Route 5 in Lovell. I went with a few expectations, but nature got in the way, slowed me down and gave me reason to pause and ponder–repeatedly.

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As I walked along the trail above the Kezar River, I spied numerous oak apple galls on the ground. And many didn’t have any holes. Was the wasp larvae still inside?

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While the dots on the gall were reddish brown, the partridgeberry’s oval drupes shone in Christmas-red fashion. I’m always awed by this simple fruit that results from a complex marriage–the fusion of pollinated ovaries of paired flowers. Do you see the two dimples? That’s where the flowers were attached. Two became one. How did they do this?

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After walking along the first leg of the trail, I headed down the “road” toward the canoe launch. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–fairy homes. Okay–true confession: As a conclusion to GLLT’s nature program for the Lovell Recreation Program this summer, the kids, their day camp counselors and our interns and docents created these homes.

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I was impressed that the disco ball still hangs in the entrance of this one. Do you see it? It just happens to be an oak apple gall. Creative kids. I do hope they’ve dropped by with their parents to check on the shelters they built.

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And then I reached the launch site and bench. It’s the perfect spot to sit, watch and listen. So I did. The bluejays kekonked, nuthatches yanked and kingfishers rattled.

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A gentle breeze danced through the leaves and offered a ripply reflection.

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And I . . . I awaited great revelations that did not come. Or did they? Was my mind open enough to receive? To contemplate the mysteries of life? The connections? The interactions?

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At last, I moved on and entered an area that is said to be uncommon in our area: headwall erosion. This is one of five ravines that feature deep v-shaped structures. Underground streams passing through have eroded the banks. It’s a special place that invites further contemplation. And exploration.

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One of my favorite wonders on the bit of water that trickled through–water striders. While they appeared to skate on the surface, they actually took advantage of water tension making it look like they walked on water as they feasted on insects and larvae that I could not see.

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Lots of turtle signs also decorated the trail. Literally.

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In fact, I found bear sign,

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cardinal sign,

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and lady’s slipper sign . . . among others. Local students painted the signs and it’s a fun  and artistic addition to the reserve.

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Of course, there was natural sign to notice as well, including a blue jay feather.

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Asters and goldenrods offered occasional floral decorations.

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And hobblebush berries begged to be noticed.

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And then a meadowhawk dragonfly captured my attention. I stood and watched for moments on end.

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And noted that the red maples offered similar colors.

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When I reached the canoe launch “road,” I was scolded for my action.

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Despite that, I returned to the bench overlooking the mill pond on the river. Rather than sit on the bench this time,  I slipped down an otter slide to the water’s edge.

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My efforts were rewarded. Frogs jumped. And a few paused–probably hoping that in their stillness I would not see them. But I did . . . including this green frog.

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My favorite wonder of the day . . .

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moments spent up close and personal with another meadowhawk.

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No matter how often I wander a trail, there’s always something, or better yet, many somethings, to notice. Blessed be for so many opportunities to wonder beside the Kezar River.

 

 

On Hands and Knees to Wonder

When I invited Jinny Mae to join me at Loon Echo Land Trust’s Bald Pate Preserve this afternoon, she eagerly agreed. And three hours later, I know she had no regrets. Though we never reached the summit, neither of us cared. Our minds were boggled by all that we had noticed.

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Somehow we managed to beeline our way to the Foster Pond Lookout. And then we slowed down. To a stop.

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And so we got rather personal with the rock substrate as we took a closer look. At lichens. For what seemed like ever, it was thought that lichens were symbiotic life forms consisting of Freddy Fungus and Alice Algae, who took a liken to each other and their marriage formed a single organism. Sometimes, cyanobacteria or blue-green algae was tossed into the mix. The fungus provided shelter (algae can only live where they won’t dry out and so being surrounded by fungal cells meant Alice could live outside of water), while either of the photosynthetic partners, algae or cyanobacteria, produced food from the sun.

It’s no longer just a story about Freddy and Alice living together, however. New scientific research deems another partner in the mix–yeast, which also provides protection. I feel like just stating that puts me way out of my league.

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Our goal wasn’t to understand those relationships per say. We just wanted to spend some time looking and developing an eye to recognize these structures while appreciating their life’s work that often goes unseen.

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Some grow at an especially slow rate–think hundreds of years rather than decades. That in itself, should stop us in our tracks. And yet, as we stand 5+ feet above those that grow on rocks, we hardly notice them.

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The  dark brown fruiting bodies, called apothecia, are where spores are produced and life continues. Walk tenderly, my friends.

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Jinny Mae’s excitement over the toad skin lichen was contagious. Notice its warty projections–much like the skin of an American toad, which varies in color.

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I spied this toad a few days ago, but its skin certainly helps qualify the lichen’s common name.

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If you look in the center, you can see the point where the lichen attached to the rock–the belly button of this particular lichen making it known as an umbilicate lichen.

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And among the favorite finds of the day, Jinny Mae was the first to spy this. It had rained this morning and everything was dry by the time we hiked, but some signs of moisture remained. In this case, it’s wet toad skin contrasted by dry toad skin. If you are willing to give up some water from your water bottle, you can create the same contrast. And note the black dots–its fruiting bodies or apothecia where its spores are produced.

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The more we looked, the more we saw.

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British soldiers were topped by their brilliant red caps–forever announcing their presence.

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Pixie-cup lichen stood like goblets, ready with magical potions.

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Some were filled to the brim and almost overflowed with life.

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We marveled at the green,

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gray,

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and foam-like structure of reindeer lichen. These are treats for reindeer and caribou, neither of which frequent our region except for one night a year.

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And then we looked at the next layer in succession on a rock. Once the lichens have established themselves, mosses move in. Did you ever think about the fact that mosses don’t have flowers, stems or roots? Instead, they feature tiny green leaf-like structures and microscopic hair-like structures. They send their “hairs” into the crevices created by the lichens and anchor themselves to the rocks. Today, we found a moss neither of us remember seeing before.

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To us, it offered a square presentation and we debated its identity. While we thought it may be yellow yarn moss, I’m now leaning toward medusa moss–though their leaf edges are smooth and these are obviously toothed.  Do you know? Which ever it is, we were wowed.

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We finally moved on, hiking to a false summit to take in the western view.

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The late afternoon sun and breeze played havoc with our views, but we eventually reached the rock tripe wall, where common polypody took advantage of the living conditions.

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The lichen covered a ledge, some of it green from the morning rain, but surprisingly much of it still brown. Like the toad skin lichen, rock tripe are umbilicate and attached to the rock at a single point. They reminded me of elephant ears flapping in the breeze.

From there, we headed down. Our pace on the slow side all afternoon.

And sometimes we had absolutely no pace at all, unless you consider the motion (and grunts) as we got down on our hands and knees and even our bellies to take a closer look. It was all worth a wonder. And we did.

 

 

Golden Rulers

In late summer/early fall, a variety of goldenrods shower gardens and fields with their sunshiny flowers.

Unfortunately, they’ve been wrongly blamed as the culprits of hay fever, but by the abundance of pollinating insects that visit them daily, it’s clear that they are insect rather than wind pollinated. (Ragweeds and other hay-fever causing species are wind pollinated.)

And so today, as I have for the past few weeks, I spent time focusing on those pollinating visitors and others who find goldenrods attractive for different reasons. Take a look.

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What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug.  I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

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Fortunately, there were other honeybees on the job of pollinating the flowers.

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Mighty bumblebees also filled their sacs to the brim.

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A.B. Take 2–do you see the proboscis stuck into the first bee’s thorax? It fed by sucking out the fluids.

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Back to the other visitors. One of my favorites was the hover fly. I’m always humbled by its coloration.

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And then there were the wasps.

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Their almost hairless bodies provided contrast beside the bees.

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A.B. Take 3–The A.B. turned the bee and it appeared that its proboscis became coated with pollen, which would make sense.

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Meanwhile, a jumping spider waited patiently for its own prey to come into sight. I felt like all eyes were on me as we came face to face. Thankfully, it didn’t jump and grab me with its jaws.

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Another with a poisonous bite is the crab spider. This one was more active that most that I’ve seen. Usually, they sit and wait, then catch their prey, bite it and again, suck it dry. And while it looks huge in this picture, it is really quite small–about pencil eraser size.

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A third spider species used the goldenrod’s stem and leaves to weave its own structure. It seemed to be more successful than the others at finding a meal.

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A.B. Take 4–Check out A.B.’s tiny red eyes. And its camouflage–no wonder the poor bee never saw it.

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Not every visitor to the goldenrod knew about camouflage. I don’t know who this is, but saw it on a nearby orange echinacea yesterday. Its mauve color certainly shouted for attention among the yellow sea.

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A different caterpillar did a better job of blending in–do you see it?

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A.B. Take 5–An hour later and the A.B. was still sucking.

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At the same time, another predator hid among the flowers–an ambush bug.

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This species is otherworldly at best.

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And talented. The ambush bug waits patiently and then snatches prey with its knife-like pincers. All but the outer shell of the prey is consumed. I swear this guy was smiling. Maybe he’d enjoyed a feast and I’d missed it.

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A.B. Take 6–About two hours after I’d first observed it, I returned and couldn’t find the bee. Then I noticed a motionless body on a flower branch below. Apparently A.B. had sucked all the life out of it and then let it go.

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A.B. The Final Take–It had finished taking and went in search of another victim.

What I know for sure: While goldenrod may rule the late garden, it is also ruled by many in a bug-eat-bug world. All of it is worth a wonder.

The Fruits Of Our Labor Day Mondate

I feel like a broken record when I say that my guy works too many hours, but so it has been. This was his weekend off and he worked more than a half day on Saturday and all day plus on Sunday. This morning he burned it all off with a seven mile run and then we headed off for a hike.

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Mount Kearsarge North off Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway, New Hampshire, is an old fav that deserved a visit.

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It was great to be out of town and finally goofing off on this Labor Day holiday. He’s labored. I’ve labored (really–even when it seems like I’m playing, I truly am working, honest). And we needed a break. If we followed this blaze, however, we would never have found the summit.

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Fortunately, we knew better. The hike is challenging, especially on the upward climb. We later commented about how the downward climb is faster, but does require attention to foot placement.

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Just over two hours later, we approached the fire tower at the summit. Though no longer in use, it’s obvious from the 360˚ view why a fire lookout was built at this summit. Constructed in 1909, the structure was rebuilt by the US Forest Service in 1951. Prior to the replacement of fire towers by airplane surveillance, this tower was in operation until 1968.

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Since we were last here about a year or so ago, it looked as if some of the support beams had been replaced.

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Despite the cooler temps and wind, it’s always worth a climb up.

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Once inside, all was calm. And the view–to die for. It made the efforts of our labor well worth it. We signed the log before moving back outside.

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I was thankful for the railing that kept me from being blown to the great beyond as I gazed toward the Baldfaces,  though the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as last week’s Mount Crawford Mondate.

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Back on the granite, we twirled about and took in each view–including Mount Washington with cumulus clouds grazing its summit.

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The cloud cover varied as we looked toward the valley with Cathedral Ledge, the Moats and beyond. Because we’ve set our feet down at those various levels, we appreciated the layers before us.

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And we noted the Green Hills Preserve, where we’ve also hiked many a trail.

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The cloud cover changed as we turned toward home and saw Pleasant Mountain in the distance. Our house is located about center beyond the mountain. And our camp to the left end of said mountain.

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Of all the rocks, lunch rock was the most important find. Sometimes, it’s difficult to locate such among all the opportunities, but this one spoke to us. And so we sat. And ate. Sandwiches (not PB&J–those are more for winter fare) and brownies (great any time of the year).

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And then my guy decided to snooze. He deserved it.

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I took advantage of the opportunity to observe and was tickled to find these woody fruits–the milk duds of the north woods. Snowshoe hare scat. I found numerous examples and wondered where the hares hid. Actually, they could have been anywhere because among the bald rocks there were plenty of islands filled with brushy undergrowth.

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And so I poked about. Though the low bush blueberry plants were plentiful, the fruits were sparse. In fact, I only spotted this one.

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More prolific were the mountain cranberries, aka lingonberries.

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What surprised me was the presence of speckled alder in the mix because I think of this as a species with wet feet, but really, this mountain top is much moister than most of our lowlands, so in the end I guess it made sense. Always something to wonder about.

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It wasn’t just speckled alder that made me wonder. Sheep laurel also grew there. I know it well in bogs and even along the power line behind our house. And yet, it loved the habitat on the summit.

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The same was true for huckleberries–which I look at beside Moose Pond all summer. How can they like wet feet and a bald mountain landscape. But again, I think perhaps it’s the moisture for these mountains are often lost in the clouds.

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Mountain holly also liked this habitat. Again, I’ve seen this at camp where the fruits have already been consumed. Songbirds love these berries and the supply on Kearsarge will disappear soon as migration begins. Here today, gone tomorrow.

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Wild raisins were equally plentiful and worth admiring.

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The berries are edible, at least for birds. But . . . if not consumed, the fruits shrivel up–thus the name of wild raisin.

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At last, my guy awakened and we picked our way among the rocks and roots on our descent.

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At least one more fruit showed its face on the downward route. Or was it a fruit? Actually not–it was an oak plum gall created by a wasp.

We talked about Labor Day as we climbed down. Labor Day is a tribute to the contribution of those who work and contribute to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. We gave thanks to our parents and the work ethic they taught us. And we noted the fruits of labor we saw in the natural world.

Finally, we toasted all with a beer at Delany’s Hole in the Wall in North Conway–a Shock Top for him and Tuckerman’s Pale Ale for me. On this Mondate, we felt rewarded with the fruits of all labor.

 

Inching Along With Jinny Mae

Jinny Mae is a slow poke. Me too. And so today, we moved at slow-poke speed and covered maybe a mile in total.

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We traveled a trail I frequent at Holt Pond Preserve, but I had the opportunity to view it through her eyes. That meant, of course, that we shared identical photos because we always pause to focus on the same thing. I trust, however, that our perspective was a wee bit different–as it should be. For isn’t that what makes us individuals?

Speaking of individuals, we saw only one of these yellow-necked caterpillars. I didn’t know its name until I looked it up later. Apparently, the adult is a reddish-brown moth. And this is a defense position–indeed.

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And then the royal fern forced us to pay attention. The fertile blade of a royal fern typically looks similar to a sterile blade, but has a very distinctive cluster of sporangia-bearing pinnules at the blade tips that appear rather crown-like. What to our wondering eyes did we spy–sporangia on lower pinnules. Did this fern not read the books? We checked the rest of the royal ferns along the path and never saw another like this one.

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One of our next reasons to pause–those wonderful pitcher plants that always invite a closer look. We weren’t the only ones checking them out.

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A yellow jacket was also lured by the smell of sweet nectar. A walk down the leaves was probably the last walk those insects took. Inevitably, they’d slip to the bottom of the pitcher where a pool of water awaited. There, they either drowned or died from exhaustion while trying to escape since the downward pointing hairs prevent such from happening. Eventually, after the insect bodies break down, the plant will access the nitrogen and phosphorus contained within each bug. I can’t visit this preserve without spending time in awe of the pitcher plants.

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Damselflies and dragonflies also made us stop. We had walked on the boardwalk across the quaking bog. A spread-winged damsel posed beside Holt Pond. When at rest, it spreads its wings, unlike typical damselfly behavior.

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We watched as the darner dragonflies zoomed about, just above the water and vegetation at the pond’s edge. Occasionally, one hovered close by–just long enough for a quick photo opp.

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As we continued back along the main trail, Jinny Mae spied a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The fertilized flower cluster had produced green berries. Soon, they should ripen to a bright red before dispersing their seeds. If the thrushes and rodents are savvy, they’ll enjoy some fine dining. These are not, however, people food. Oxalic acid in the root and stems may cause severe gastric problems.

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In the same spot near Sawyer Brook, we admired the purple flowerhead of swamp asters. Within the flower disk, the five-lobed florets have started their transition from yellow to dull red.

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With Jinny Mae’s guidance, I was able to take a decent photo of a jewelweed. I love the spurred sac that extends backward. And noted that a small seed capsule had formed. JM is from the Midwest and refers to this as Touch-Me-Not because that capsule will burst open and fling seeds if touched. You say potAto, I say potAHto. We’re both right. As we always are 100% of the time–insert smiley face.

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It was another three-hour tour filled with many ohs and ahs, lots of wonder, a few questions, several considerations and even some answers.

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Inching along with Jinny Mae. Always worth the time and pace.

Hiking to the Vanishing Point

My friend, Ann, and I spent today focused on points close to us, while those in the distance also drew our attention.

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Our chosen trail to accomplish such, Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire. We began on the Avalon Trail and then turned onto the Mt. Willard Trail. I kept thinking I’d last travelled this way in the early spring, but now realize it was last November that my guy and I ventured forth on a Top Notch Mondate.

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Ann had in her mind that there were several varieties of birch trees along the way. We did marvel at pastel colors revealed by the paper birch.

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And the golden ribbony peeling of the yellow birch. But those were the only two birch species we saw over and over again. It had been a while since she’d last hiked here so the forest had changed.

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The trail has also changed. Somewhere stuck in my memory (despite the fact that I hiked here ten months ago) is a fairly flat, graveled carriage path. Um . . . I truly think that was the case years ago, but perhaps funding means it’s no longer maintained like it once was and stormwater has washed the trail out.

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The carriage road was built in 1845 by Thomas Crawford, owner and host of the Notch House in Crawford Notch. Daniel Webster and Henry David Thoreau reportedly slept there. Crawford wanted to provide his guests with an easy excursion to the summit of the mountain. Old culverts and stone diversions still mark the way.

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One of the most predominant plants from beginning to end is the hobblebush shrub, so named because its horizontal growth pattern trips hikers, causing them to hobble through the woods. This shrub wows us in any season and right now it’s displaying its late summer colors.

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On a few, we even found some fruit. I especially loved the new buds posed together like praying hands beneath the berries.

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And leaf displays that led to vanishing points.

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We chuckled to ourselves as others passed by, sweating in their efforts to reach the summit quickly. Our purpose–a slow and steady climb filled with opportunities to notice, like the funnels of water that dripped from rock to rock.

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One of our favorite stops–Centennial Pool, where water mesmerized us as it cascaded over moss-covered rocks.

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And a chipmunk darted about, surprising us with its close proximity–until we looked up and saw a couple with a dog. Perhaps we looked like we’d offer a safe haven.

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We spent a lot of time wallowing in ferns because Ann has developed a keen interest in them this year. One of our fun finds was the narrow or northern beech fern, which portrayed its natural habit of dripping downward. We loved that we could ID this one by beginning with its winged attachment to the rachis or center stem.

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Fungi also drew our attention. The mountain had been in the clouds as we approached, so it was no wonder that dew drops decorated this artist’s conk.

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Among our fungi sightings–a false tinder conk.

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And among my favorites–a fairy ring.

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Though the flowers were few, we did spy some purple asters.

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And then there were sculptures that caught our attention, like this paper birch artwork framed by moss-covered trees.

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And a yellow birch offering its own message to the universe.

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Some tree roots also begged to be noticed. So we did as we acknowledged the resident faeries.

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At last we found my carriage road. Or at least something that slightly resembled it.

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And then the tunnel.

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And a glimpse of the world beyond.

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Within seconds, without a drum roll, the jaw-dropping view of the Notch enveloped our focus.

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As we ate lunch, another human-savvy critter came closer than is the norm–a red squirrel. We think he coveted Ann’s lunch–a peanut butter and blueberry sandwich with whole blueberries. Who wouldn’t?

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Mountain summits in these parts often feature Mountain Ash trees. Today, I paid attention to the pattern, including the six finger splay of its leaflet.

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And I couldn’t resist the contrast of color it offered against the mountain backdrop.

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Though we didn’t see any Mountain Ash berries, each individual leaf presented its own point of view.

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At the beginning of our hike and again at the summit, we kept hearing a helicopter. Mount Washington was obscured by cloud cover, but with her binoculars, Ann observed a helicopter with a litter. It seemed to follow the same route again and again.

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Our hope was that it was practice over mission. We had no idea of the purpose.

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At last we hiked down. One of the best parts about following the same path is that new stories await–when you can take the time to look up. And our pièce de résistance–an old snag. A beautiful old snag. Notice its vertical lines intersected by horizontal lines. We spent a long time studying and caressing this natural sculpture.

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Though it appeared to be dead, life reigned.

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I know my mentors will correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe this is Pholiota squarrosa, commonly known as the shaggy scalycap, the shaggy Pholiota, or the scaly Pholiota. Whatever you want to call it, it seemed to have its own vanishing point.

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Much the same was true for the train tracks we crossed that head north toward Breton Woods.

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And those that lead south from Crawford’s Notch.

Thanks to Ann for today’s hike into the vanishing point, a disappearance into the woods for a visual exploration.

Book of September: Forest Trees of Maine

The other day a friend and I made plans for an upcoming hike. Before saying goodbye, she said, “Don’t forget to bring your tree book.”

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Really? I have at least thirty books dedicated to the topic of trees. But . . . I knew exactly which one she meant: Forest Trees of Maine. I LOVE this book–or rather, booklet. You’ll notice the tattered version on the left and newer on the right. Yup, it gets lots of use and often finds its way into my pack. When I was thinking about which book to feature this month, it jumped to the forefront. I actually had to check to see if I’d used it before and was surprised that I hadn’t.

Produced by the Maine Forest Service, the centennial issue published in 2008 was the 14th edition and it’s been reprinted two times since then.

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In previous years, the book was presented in a different format. Two editions sit on my bookshelf, and I need to share with you two things that didn’t find their way into the most recent copy.

From 1981: Foreword–“It is a pleasure to present the eleventh edition of Forest Trees of Maine. 

Many changes have occurred in Maine’s forest since 1908, the year the booklet first appeared. Nonetheless, the publication continues to be both popular and useful and thousands have been distributed. Many worn and dog-eared copies have been carried for years by woodsmen, naturalists and other students of Maine’s Great Out-Of-Doors.

We wish the booklet could be made available in much greater quantity, however, budgetary considerations prevent us from doing so. I urge you to use your copy of Forest Trees of Maine with care. If you do, it will give years of service in both field and office.”

Kenneth G. Stratton, Director.

From 1995: One of two poems included. I chose this one because it was one my mother often recited.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer

t-how to use keys (1)

The most recent edition of Forest Trees of Maine provides a snapshot of the booklets history and information about the changes in the Maine landscape. For instance, in 1908, 75% of the land was forested, whereas in 2008, 89% was such. The state’s population during that one hundred year period had grown by 580,457. With that, the amount of harvested wood had also grown. And here’s an intriguing tidbit–the cost of the Bangor Daily News was $6/year in 1908 and $180/year in 2008.

Two keys are presented, one for summer when leaves are on the trees and the second for winter, when the important features to note are bark and buds.

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t-glossary (1)

Terms for leaf shapes, margins and structure, twig structure, plus needle types and flower types are illustrated and various terms defined.

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There’s even information on how a tree works because they do–for our well-being and for the benefit of wildlife.

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And then the descriptive pages begin. Each layout includes photographs, sketches and lots of information, both historical as in the King’s Arrow Pine, and identifiable as in bark, leaves, cones, wood, etc.

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1981

t-pines yellow book (1)

1995

Though some of the information is the same, it’s fun to note the differences from the two earlier publications.

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At the beginning of each family, major descriptions are noted in an easy to follow format.

t-maple (1)

And like the conifers, the broadleaves are portrayed.

Tomorrow, when my friend and I venture off, I’d better remember to pack this booklet. She’s peeked my curiosity about what she wants to ID because I’ve climbed the mountain before and perhaps I missed something. She already has a good eye for trees so I can’t wait to discover what learning she has in mind for us.

This Book of September is for you, Ann Johnson. And it’s available at Bridgton Books or from the forest service: http://www.maineforestservice.gov or forestinfo@maine.gov.

Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 2008, published by The Maine Forest Service